One of my favourite Christmas traditions is placing brightly wrapped presents under the tree as we celebrate the gift of Jesus. But for many families, Christmas doesn’t bring anything extra—just meeting daily needs is a struggle. That’s why The Salvation Army’s international development department has created Under the Tree, a fundraising campaign that helps ministry units work together—as a congregation, a women’s ministry group, a youth group, etc.—to “Fill a Dorm,” “Fill a School” or “Build a Farm.”

Here’s how it works. At the beginning of the campaign—which can take place at any time but is designed for the four weeks of December—the ministry unit will see a school room, dorm or farm via a PowerPoint slide. As people contribute, they can purchase specific items, such as a desk, textbooks, backpack, school uniform, tuition payment or teacher’s salary, which are added to the slide week by week. What starts as an empty school room begins to fill up, providing a visual representation of the impact the donations are making in the lives of others.

Each year, the resources will highlight different countries, but within the three main areas in which the international development department works: residential care for children, education and agriculture.

Fill a Dorm

In many rural communities around the world, access to education is challenging. While visiting the India Central Territory in February, I met Rani, who is 16 years old and has been living at the Salvation Army children’s hostel for five years. While living at home with her parents, she went to school until Grade 5. After this, there was no school close enough for her to attend. Instead, she would spend most of her time working in the fields with her parents who are both farmers. However, now that she is living at the hostel, she is able to attend school and is thankful for all the support she receives.

Fill a School

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #4 is quality education. We believe that every child deserves access to education. We provide funds to support children and schools to ensure they are properly equipped to succeed. While recently visiting a school in Zimbabwe, one of the students said, “You have given us a blessing of education. You have empowered us to be the best in this world.”

Build a Farm

Approximately 75 percent of individuals in the global south live in rural areas and depend upon agriculture for their livelihoods. The funds from Build a Farm help to tackle food insecurity and support farmers, so that they not only have enough food for the present, but also enough to invest in the future by providing for their children’s education, health and family well-being.

Under the Tree has been active now for two years and ministry units are beginning to see the value of working together to provide support to others beyond our borders. This past December, I implemented the fundraiser for the first time at my home corps, East Toronto Citadel. The support was overwhelming, and I was often moved to tears as I watched our virtual school room fill up each week. We started with an empty space, but by week four, it was overflowing, as we raised more than $3,000.

In the past two years, 10 corps have participated and raised $9,533 to support the work of international development. We hope that as more people learn about this valuable program, we will continue to see this number grow.

Vernon Community Church, B.C., has recognized the value of this fundraiser and is planning to implement Under the Tree this coming Christmas. Major Ron Cartmell, a retired officer who attends the corps, says, “We have made the decision to promote Under the Tree because it gives us the opportunity to look beyond ourselves and our own community during the Christmas season to the needs of the world. This helps us build awareness of the ministry of The Salvation Army internationally and how we, who have so much, can help others at this time of giving.”

To learn more about Under the Tree visit or send an email to

Major Heather Matondo is the sponsorship program manager in the international development department.

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